Roberts Blossom, an actor who specialized in playing ornery (yet often secretly loveable) types—including his famous turn in Home Alone as Macaulay Culkin’s sinister-looking neighbor—has died, according to the New York Times. He was 87.
Like many performers of his particular idiom, Blossom didn’t grow into his film roles until he was in his forties and fifties, although he spent many years as an accomplished stage actor before that, winning four Obie Awards in the 1950s. After contributing guest roles to shows like The Defenders and The Art Carney Show, Blossom had a small part as a patient in the underappreciated George C. Scott-starring black comedy The Hospital, followed soon by a turn as Wild Bob Cody in the 1972 adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. Blossom had his first breakout as the star of the cult horror film Deranged, which found him playing a backwoods serial killer based on Ed Gein. The sinister edge that Blossom brought to the role would more or less follow him throughout the rest of his career.
Other famous creeps brought to life by Blossom: the quiet Doc Dalton in Escape From Alcatraz, whose violent response to being denied his painting privileges provides one of the film’s most haunting sequences; the farmer who swears he’s seen Bigfoot in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind; and the old coot who sells Keith Gordon the titular possessed car in Christine.
Blossom occasionally played his persona for more comic effect, as when he turned up as the rural judge who sentences big-city doctor Michael J. Fox to community service in Doc Hollywood, and he used it to bittersweet ends as Mr. Gatz, the father who reveals his son’s humble beginnings in the Robert Redford-starring The Great Gatsby. But modern audiences are no doubt most familiar with Blossom’s role as Home Alone’s Old Man Marley, the white-bearded seeming misanthrope who’s rumored to have murdered his entire family, yet who turns out to be Macaulay Culkin’s kindly salvation.
(Apologies for the low quality of the video.)
Like the revelation that Marley is, behind his gruff exterior, a kindhearted man, Blossom concealed his own surprising sensitivity, leaving acting behind in the late ’90s to pursue a career in writing poetry. Before that, however, he amassed a prolific run of credits that also included movies like The Quick And The Dead, Vision Quest, and Always, plus appearances on TV shows such as Northern Exposure, the ’80s reboot of The Twilight Zone, Tales From The Darkside, Amazing Stories, Moonlighting, and Another World (for which he won a Soapy Award). His final on-screen appearance was in the 1999 Disney TV movie Balloon Farm.